Our obsession with period dramas

The recent success of Bridgerton, a thoroughly modern perspective of Regency Britain, takes its place alongside many other popular television and movie period drama productions that have had us tuning in in our droves for decades. Whether it is the ornate costumery, the sublime settings, the intricate relationships, or the flowery language, it seems we can’t get enough of them! Given the anti-patriarchal, free-thinking society of today, why is it that we love these anachronisms so much?

Dancing the quadrille Regency style!
From Poldark of the 1970s to the more recent version (who could forget that scene with the scythe?), Pride & Prejudice circa 1980, 1995 and 2005, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Downton Abbey, The Crown, Ammonite, The Favourite, Brideshead Revisited, and Gentleman Jack (to name but a few), all are fodder for the national (and international) period drama appetite.
Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack)
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that draws us in, but the period dress would have to be close to the top of the 'compelling factors' list. From Vandyke points to saw tooth trim lace work; printed cottons to lavish embroidery; heavy silks, muslin and gauze; the ultra-feminine attire appeals to the Anne Elliot in us. Likewise, the tailored, cutaway tailcoats, pantaloons and tall, stand up collars worn by Regency gentlemen is the oft and guiltily-admired dress of many a modern day Captain Frederick Wentworth (aka Phil from the pub)!

The craftsmanship in the clothing is right up CraftCourses' street. The imagination and creativity, on a par with any couture designer of today, is perfectly aligned with the appreciation of colour, texture, and vibrancy that we, along with our entire community of makers and students, have in bucket loads. Little wonder that we're avidly awaiting the next big drama! And don't forget the little details, the copper plate in handwritten notes (ah! Lady Whistledown I presume?) the stunning floral arrangements, the creak of a leather saddle, and tinkling glassware. All conspire to paint a glorious picture to revel in. 
Thomas Gainsborough - Portrait of a Woman 1750
A mix of modern music with the backdrop of yesteryear in productions such as Bridgerton, Peaky Blinders, and A Knight’s Tale, has created a new mini-genre of period drama, a hybrid that is resonating with audiences world-wide. The nostalgia that comes from reliving cultural, social and political events that may have shaped our own lives or those of our forebears is hard to resist especially when set to a string quartet version of our favourite pop hits. 

We may be consummate couch potatoes, binge-watching our favourites via the many streaming services now available (whatever happened to the interminable wait for the next episode?), but there are some media psychology experts who actually believe there are positive psychological benefits to watching historical drama including improved mental health, social connections and listening skills. Period dramas are about people and the human connection, from love stories to comrades in arms. 
“They allow us to experience extremes of emotion without the existential threat.” 
“These stories are like a flight simulator for life…they show us ways of ‘being’ through universal themes of love, betrayal, redemption, innocence, justice, sacrifice, transformation.” 
Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge 

The archetypal characters of hero, partner, villain, lover, ingenue, and muse along with a good story, allow the viewer to be transported into the narrative, experiencing the story from within. Identification with the characters enables a level of emotional engagement that may be missing from watching a crime thriller or epic action movie. Although set in earlier times, there are parallels to be drawn between these earlier versions of ourselves: the relatively ordinary folk of yesterday. This said with tongue in cheek! After all, the 'little cottage' that is the new home for the penniless Dashwood mother and daughters in Sense & Sensibility, is a mansion by today's standards. A parallel but a slightly wrinkled one!!
Image credit: Birmingham Museums Trust
Although relatability is an important factor in our collectively appreciative sighs, during the watching experience you are transported into a world so foreign and distant to a life lived today, it is easier to forget your ‘first world problems’ as you wonder at survival in a world without flushing toilets, deodorant, hot showers, and the inevitable pungency resulting from a life spent in petticoats, drawers and stays!

Not content with simply watching the compelling lives of the past, many fans take part in reenacting them - dress ups if you will! Events such as the Jane Austen Festival in Hampshire, the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, or the Napoleonic Living History Festival at Whittington Castle, clearly demonstrate our enduring fondness for donning the historical dress closest to our hearts. As appreciative as we are of our new fangled lives and wardrobes, we can't resist tapping into our inner Elizabeth Bennett or Mr. Darcy and stepping out in style!
Image credit: Elaine Howlin
Let's not forget, in all the excitement and contemplation of Season 3 of Bridgerton, the joy of simply curling up with your favourite characters on the sofa is not to be underestimated. There's a lot to be said for picking up that dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice and pointing your obsession in a more traditional direction. In the inimitable style of Elizabeth Bennett, words are the key to everything:
“From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish distain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of the disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world on whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”      Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
If all this period drama has flounced its way into your imagination, CraftCourses has plenty to keep you busy. If you would like to try hand embroidery, lace making, corsetry, tailoring or creative writing, we've got something that you will love. If you're simply in the mood for a meander, then have a browse of all the courses we love to share with you.

...and if a good book is more you, here are some classics to re-discover and re-love:

Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
Winston Graham, Poldark
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

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